|Character||Fl WR 2.5s|
|Sectors||W183°-273° (90°).R273°-295° (22°).W295°-307° (12°). R307°-351° (44°). W351°-003° (12°)|
|Light Range||White 17 nautical miles, 13 nautical miles|
|Height of Tower||24 metres|
|Height of Light above MHWS||15 metres|
Youghal or Eochaill, Yew Wood, is a pleasant seaside town,
thirty one miles by road, east of Cork, nestled under sheltering
hills at the western entrance of a natural harbour to which it
gives its name.
The town is steeped in history. Phoenicians traded here over 2,200 years ago, exchanging their brightly coloured fabrics for locally made pottery, an industry which still exists today in the town. Long before Saint Patrick landed in Ireland, Saints Declan and Coran had established monastic settlements nearby.
The Vikings apparently did not show any interest in the district or harbour but the town came under the influence of the Anglo-Normans who left their mark. Maurice Fitzgerald built an abbey for the first foundation of Franciscans in Ireland, and he is also reported as being responsible for building a Light Tower to guide Norman ships safely into the harbour.
During the Desmond Rising the Earl sacked the town. When subsequently defeated, the land was divided and Queen Elizabeth gave Sir Walter Raleigh 42,000 acres around Youghal. Perhaps one of the more colourful pages in Youghal's history is when Sir Walter was the town's mayor, he planted the first potatoes in Ireland in a garden close to the Light Tower. He also introduced tobacco to the country, and had one of his first pipefuls of the weed extinguished with a bucket of water by his servant at Myrtle Grove which was at that time his home. A fine bay-window in the south gable is where Spencer completed his poem Faerie Queene. This fine Elizabethan house is now a private residence.
The Clock Gate was built in 1777 by Mayor John Swayne to house the town guard and also act as a temporary lock-up for prisoners awaiting trial. Before long it became an infamous building where numerous forms of torture were carried out and where many were hanged after the 1798 rebellion. Close by the Clock Gate off the north main street is Tynte's Castle, built in 1602 and in an excellent state of preservation.
Before leaving Ireland through Water Gate Arch in 1650, Oliver Cromwell stabled 1,600 horses and cattle in the nave and chancel of St Mary's Collegiate Church built in 1220 by Maurice Fitzgerald. Cromwell's men desecrated coffin-lids and the building generally. It was not until 1865 that the church was restored and is now used by the Church of Ireland.
A light tower was built in 1190 by Maurice Fitzgerald and placed under the care of the nuns of St Anne's Convent whom he endowed for this purpose. The tower, built at the western entrance to the harbour in almost exactly the same position as our present lighthouse, was about twenty four feet high and ten feet in diameter. It had a narrow pointed doorway on the sea side looking north east, and spiral stone steps on the inside of the building led up to two large circular headed windows. One faced east over the harbour mouth and the other faced over Capel Island. Boullaye le Gouz published his tour of Ireland in 1644 and mentions that the nuns in the tower, called the Nunnery, used to light torches upon the tower to guide vessels into the harbour at night. The practice was discontinued after 1542 when St Anne's Chapel was dissolved. The tower was in a bad state of decay when it was taken down to make room for the present lighthouse in the summer of 1848.
In the 1820s Youghal was an important and growing port. Statistics show that in 1831 nine ships brought nearly 2,000 tons of timber from North America, and 440 colliers brought 28,000 tons of coal and 26,000 tons of culm or anthracite. To help to balance the imports Youghal exported oats, wheat, barley, flour, calves, pigs, sheep, bacon and butter, together totalling over 3,000 tons. A large fishing fleet which reached 250 vessels by 1834.
In 1828 Thomas Harvey of Youghal requested that the Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Dublin (the Ballast Board) establish a lighthouse, not where the old Light Tower stood, but on Capel Island, half a mile off Knockadoon Head and five miles south of Youghal on the western boundary of Youghal Bay. Capel Island derives its name from a Norman family, de Capelle, which was granted the island after the invasion. It is just over ten acres and rises to 134 feet. Generally throughout the Lighthouse Journal around this period Capel Island is referred to as Cable Island but so as not to confuse the issue I shall use its original and present day name, Capel.
The Board did not immediately agree to a lighthouse on Capel Island.
The next request came in September 1830 from the merchants of Youghal, again through Mr Harvey. The Board's Inspector of Works & Inspector of Lighthouses, George Halpin, reported that he had given the lighting of the south coast between Waterford and Cork considerable consideration; a light on Capel would not be in the best situation for passing vessels and not much better for local shipping unless there was a second light placed at the entrance to Youghal Harbour. The Board informed Mr Harvey that they could not comply with the application.
Twelve months later further letters came from the merchants of Cork and Youghal, shipowners and masters, all pointing out that the nearest lights were at Old Head and Hook (Roches Point was regarded only as a harbour light), and that thirty vessels had gone aground locally in the past few years. They also mentioned the large quantities of coal and culm that were being imported into Youghal. All told, nearly 100 signatures appeared on the letters. The Inspector reiterated that Capel Island was not suitable for general light but suggested this time that Ballymacart Head, or Mine Head as it is called today, would be a better position. He did not favour Capel even as a port light but suggested a small tower at the harbour entrance.
This brought down an avalanche of replies, from merchants, commanders, masters, shipping associations-even the Admiralty and the Hydrographer were brought in; they all were in favour of Capel Island and opposed to Ballymacart Head. The Board, realising that they were fighting a losing battle, wrote to Trinity House informing them of the situation but, having in the end to come to accept that Capel Island was the preferred position, requested Trinity Board's concurrence in the matter. Towards the end of January 1832 Trinity House agreed to the light but said that toll charges were to be confined to vessels using the ports of Cork and Youghal.
The Ballast Board put Capel Island on hold for eight years until a letter was received again from the merchants of Youghal complete with one hundred signatures. George Halpin reported to the Board that the main channel trade had not looked for a light on Capel, only local Cork and Youghal merchants and mariners. He still considered that Ballymacart Head and a local light at Youghal would be better; even Ardmore Head, once advocated by the Hydrographer in previous correspondence would be useful. The Inspector proposed to re-examine the two sites, to which the Board agreed.
A further five to six years passed, reminders to the Board were sent by the Cork Ballast Board and shipowners' societies about the lighthouse to be built on Capel Island, and still the Inspector resisted; even Trinity House concurred for a second time with the shipping companies, and eventually after a further two months on 19 March 1846 the Corporation decided that it was expedient to erect a lighthouse on Capel Island! Inspector George Halpin was directed to submit a plan and survey of the ground required, together with a drawing of the tower and an estimate of the cost.
Three months later the Inspector reported on a suitable site for the lighthouse on Capel Island and the Board ordered the Law Agent to make the necessary enquiries relative to the ground and to obtain title without an Inquisition.
The island belonged to the Marquis of Thomond who stated he had no intention of letting or selling all or part of the island, but had no objection to disposing for the purpose of Public Utility, adding that he did not want to incur any expense or be put to any trouble. This meant the Board would have to have an Inquisition and the inquiry was arranged for 9 September in Youghal.
Further legal complications held up the process, coupled with the sudden death of the Marquis; eventually, after an inquiry in Youghal on 18 March, 1847 the land required was valued at £150 and was a apportioned thus: Marquis of Thomond £144-15-0d., John Keefe £5, and Queen Victoria five shillings. The seal was affixed to the deal on 18th April 1847.
Meanwhile, an incident had occurred which was to eventually seal the fate of Capel Island lighthouse. On 16 January 1847 the steam ship Sirius struck the Smiths' Rocks west of Ballycotton in dense fog and became a total wreck near the coast when its captain, Captain Moffatt, tried to run the crippled vessel into Ballycotton harbour. This gallant ship was the first vessel to cross the Atlantic between Passage West, Cork, and New York completely under steam in April 1838 beating Burnel's Great Western by half a day. The Great Western was, in reality, faster and left Bristol four days after Sirius left Passage but honours must go to Lieutenant R. Roberts and the 412 ton Sirius
After the loss of the Sirius and under a Steam Navigation Act, the Board of Trade informed the Corporation that Captain Denham RN had been selected to enquire into the loss of the vessel. In his report he drew the attention of the Ballast Board to the propriety of forthwith establishing two lighthouses, on a transit to clear Smiths' rock, on Ballycotton Island and one lighthouse on either Helvick or Ballymacart Head, to avert the frequency of wrecks along the unlit coast between Hook and Kinsale. The Corporation acknowledged the Board of Trade's letter and informed them the subject would receive prompt attention and also mentioned that the lighthouse to be erected on Capel Island was awaiting legal proceedings. These, as we have seen, were completed in March and during April Inspector Halpin reported that preparatory work had started on the island.
Yet another letter was received in January 1848 from the Cork Steam Ship Co. and the merchants, shipowners and masters of Cork, urging the expeditious erection of the lighthouse on Capel Island. The Board acknowledged by stating that every exertion was being made; the tower was now six feet above the cut stone base and, except for the lantern, should be complete by the following summer. The Corporation added that due to the steepness of the island a road had to be constructed.
At the Board Meeting on 24 February 1848 a letter from the Admiralty landed on the table which must have made Inspector Halpin throw up his arms in anguish and, indeed, the eight members of the Board under the Chairmanship of Francis Augustine Codd Esq. must have gnashed their teeth, held their heads and thumped the table with their clenched fists, because enclosed with the Admiralty's letter was a copy of a letter from the Cork Harbour Commissioners, merchants, traders and shipowners of Cork City and County, looking for two lighthouses, one on Ballycotton and one on Ballymacart (Mine) Head, in lieu of the proposed light for Capel Island. The whole letter was a complete reversal to everything that had been said before and they referred to the animadversions of the Admiralty Hydrographer and eminent Naval Authorities. They mentioned too that after repeated solicitations the Ballast Board had at length declared their intention of erecting a light on Capel Island but the memoralists added that after a more mature consideration of the subject together with better qualified opinions of professional authorities upon the number and distribution of lighthouses along the seventy mile unlit stretch of coast between Hook and Old Head of Kinsale, they concluded that lighthouses on Ballycotton and Ballymacart Heads would be better than the incomplete provision contemplated by the Ballast Board. To round off their letter they stated that if there was a loss sustained in removing stones from Capel Island to Ballymacart it should not be considered in a question of such magnitude as the protection of shipping, life and property.
The Board replied to the Admiralty at great length pointing out Inspector Halpin's original preference for Ballymacart Head instead of Capel Island, and how the Cork and Youghal Merchants were against a lighthouse on Ballymacart, and how the Admiralty and Hydrographer supported the merchants in their request for a Capel Island light, to say nothing of what the Elder Brethren said about a major light being a burden on western trade vessels. They also mentioned to their Lordships in the Admiralty that less than a month previous the Cork shipowners were pressing for the completion of the Capel Island lighthouse. Two weeks later the Admiralty replied that they were aware of the differences of opinion but the Ballast Board should determine a course which seemed best calculated for the Service of the Public. They suggested that the acquiescence of the Elder Brethren should be obtained for the erection of two lighthouses and the works on Capel Island should be suspended.
In a report George Halpin mentioned that it would not be economic to remove Capel Island tower to Ballycotton and suggested that as Capel Island tower was now a few courses off completing the second storey it should be finished off as a beacon tower so that at a later date it could be made into an outer harbour light. The cost of the tower when converted to a beacon had reached £2,137-14-2d. The Board duly ordered that sanction should be obtained from the Elder Brethren for lights on Ballycotton and Mine (Ballymacart) Head.
At the Board meeting on 13 April 1848 Inspector Halpin stated that with the proposed lights on Ballycotton and Mine Head a small light inside the bar at the entrance to Youghal Harbour would be sufficient south of the town where a suitable site was available. This, in fact, was the site of the tower used by the nuns of St Anne's up to 1542.
Towards the end of 1848 a letter was addressed to the Dublin Ballast Board requesting permission for the Youghal Mining Co. to search for minerals and ore under the Corporation's land. George Halpin was not in favour and the Board stated that they were not at present disposed to grant any lease of the premises on Capel Island.
The tower on Capel is, including the domed roof, approximately twenty five feet high. The base of the tower is approximately twenty feet in diameter tapering to seventeen feet six inches at the top. The internal diameter of the two rooms is approximately eleven feet six inches. Capel Island is now a Nature Reserve and the uncompleted tower still serves as an unlit navigational beacon.
With Trinity House's blessing for new lights at Mine Head, Ballycotton, and a harbour light at Youghal, the Board instructed the Law Agent to enquire as to who owned the ground at Youghal where the ruined St Anne's Tower stood. Early in May 1848 the Agent reported that the Duke of Devonshire was the landowner but the Duke's land agent appeared to be very indignant that anyone should want to take a man's property against his will and not pay for the expense of making out the title. He also mentioned that he had not had time to look into the acts or consult the Duke's English counsel. All this seems to have been an unnecessary waste of time because soon afterwards an enquiry was to be held in Youghal for valuing the ground required which was made known the following month. The Duke's share amounted to £32-10-0d, the Rev. William Nelson Jackson's £37-10-0d, and Mr John Collin's £30-0-0d; total £100.
No time was lost; the three gentlemen were paid and by October Inspector George Halpin reported that the masonry of the tower and enclosure of the ground were proceeding satisfactorily.
Commissioner Robert Callwell in his manuscript Lighthouses of Ireland dated 1871 relates that Mr Kirwan, who was foreman of works, told him that the present tower occupies the exact spot of the ancient tower.
The masonry part of the tower was complete by July 1849 and during the following winter the lantern was added; the copper dome could not be finished as the coppersmiths were employed at Ballycotton and it was not until June 1851 that George Halpin reported that the buildings were complete. Meanwhile, the Youghal Town Commissioners had enquired when the lighthouse was to be put into operation, suggesting that it should be simultaneously lit with Ballycotton and Mine Head. The Inspector was not in agreement with this and said Youghal should be lit after the other two, giving August as a date. As it happened, things, for some reason or other, did not work out as planned. Ballycotton and Mine Head were exhibited on 1 June 1851 but Youghal stayed unlit until 1 February 1852.
The light, a fixed dioptric 3rd order optic showing white, 78 feet above high water, was visible for 10 miles. The total cost up to 1852 was £4,679-6-5d. The granite tower has three floors, ground, first and lantern, and is 43 feet high to the top of the dome ventilator. The Keeper's dwelling is alongside with the front door opening on to the main Cork-Youghal road.
Three abortive attempts were made by railway companies to acquire lighthouse ground for extensions of lines into or through Youghal. The first was in December 1860 by the Cork and Youghal Railway, who had opened their line from Tivoli to the present terminus at Youghal on 15 August the previous year. Mr William Lees, the Board's Secretary submitted to the Board a printed notice from the Cork and Youghal Railway, on the subject of extending the line through the lighthouse premises into Youghal town. The Board ordered a notice of dissent to be served on the Railway Company, who quickly replied with drawings and Parliamentary Plans for 1861 trusting they would get an assent from the Board. Mr John S. Sloan, the Board's Civil Engineer, reported that there would be serious injury to the lighthouse premises if the railway was allowed to pass through and the garden, although small, was of great fertility. (This is contrary to what Mr J. Higginbotham, the Attendant, told me when I visited the station in 1963 prior to electrification. He said that anything he planted was burnt out of the ground by the salt from sea water spray and cabbage heads were twisted off their stalks like cork screws!) The Board ordered that the Law Agent should be instructed to watch progress.
In February 1861 the Law Agent reported that the Railway Company's solicitor was not in a position to give any undertaking to modify plans, and the only remedy now left for the Board was to present a petition against the Bill going through Parliament.
It was not long before the Chief Engineer of the Railway Company, Mr O.C. Edwards, was anxious to have an interview with the Board's Engineer. This was arranged and by late March everything seemed cut and dried with Mr Edwards' proposals prudently adopted with reference to the Public Service. Two months later the Articles of Agreement had been engrossed, the seals of the Railway Company and Board affixed and all approved by the Board of Trade. The line, in fact, was never extended, possibly due to lack of funds, and in 1863 the Great Southern and Western Railway took over the Cork and Youghal Railway.
The second attempt to by-pass Youghal Lighthouse with a railway line was made towards the end of 1864, this time from the north through the town to join the Cork and Youghal Railway at its terminus. The Southern Railway of Ireland was constructing a line between Thurles, on the main line to Cork, and Clonmel, on the Waterford and Limerick Railway's main line. The Southern Railway sent a notice to the Board informing them of their intention to apply to Parliament to obtain a Bill to extend their line from Clonmel to Youghal. The Law Agent advised the Board to dissent and to obtain plans and tracings. These were passed on to the Tramway Committee who reported in January 1865 that a petition should be presented with a view to obtaining clauses in the Bill. Soon after the Bill and the Board's petitions had reached the House of Lords the Southern Railway Company withdrew their Bill looking for the extension of their line. Here again, like the Cork and Youghal Railway, it never happened.
The third and last attempt to run a railway through the lighthouse grounds was made by the Cork and Waterford Railway in 1905. A deputation from the Company visited the lighthouse and sought permission from the Lightkeeper to run a railway through the grounds. This was noted by the Board when it was reported by the Keeper. The Commissioners duly received the Notice of the Bill so they asked the Keeper to inspect the plans at the Youghal Urban District Council office. The Keeper informed the Commissioners that he was satisfied that the line would not touch the Commissioners' property - here again the line, of course, was never constructed. The railway line still runs to Youghal and terminates in the original station although regular passenger services ceased on 2 February 1963. The line is still used for freight traffic and occasional summer weekend excursions.
Early in 1869 the Commissioners received a memorial numerously signed and presented by the Lloyds' Agent at Youghal, praying for measures to be taken for buoying the entrance into Youghal Harbour. To the Board's enquiry as to how far the local Harbour Board's jurisdiction extended, the Lloyds' Agent replied that there was no Harbour Board and that the Town Commissioners were only in charge of the quays and collecting Harbour Dues. Captain Roberts was ordered to examine the harbour without delay and to comment on the report made by Assistant Inspector Captain Hawes. Generally Captain Roberts agreed with what his Assistant had to say and by June 1869 the Board of Trade and Trinity House approved the recommendations of Sir James Dombrain, Chairman of the Inspecting Committee, for two buoys to mark either Black Ball Ledge or Bar Rocks and a Tidal Light to be exhibited from a window in the lighthouse tower two hours before high water and one hour after. The Tidal Light was first exhibited on 1 December 1870, and the Board of Trade instructed the Commissioners to employ a man to work the tidal light at a wage less than a helper. A local man was found and paid ten shillings per week.
In 1875 the Youghal Town Commissioners approached the Board through the Inspector to see if they were interested in using the town gas for the light. The Board was in agreement providing the gas was at a reasonable cost and that a gas holder could be filled adequately for a night's supply. This suggestion was never carried out. Two further items of interest occurred in 1875, one was that Youghal became a Principal Keeper Station and the other that an auxiliary light was established to cover the North Channel.
Just before Christmas 1890 the kitchen ceiling fell down, breaking some of the Keeper's crockery. The Board agreed to pay £1-3-2d towards the cost of replacement.
1896 saw the station connected to the town's water supply which in those days would have been a great improvement even though there was only a sink with one tap. A further sixty two years elapsed before a proper bathroom, toilet and new scullery were installed. Electric light for the dwellings came a little earlier, in 1940.
Early in January 1906 the question of the brightness of the light was brought up by the local Lloyd's Agent who was promptly told that the Commissioners only dealt directly with Lloyds. At or around the time of this incident the schooner Annett was wrecked near the Youghal and the Board of Trade brought to the Commissioners' notice the verdict of the jury, following the inquest on the ill-fated vessel, which recommended a newer and brighter light. The Commissioners, however, informed the Board of Trade that they considered the light at Youghal quite sufficient.
Just before the beginning of First World War a large portion of cliff fell away thus endangering the boundary wall of the station. The Commissioners referred the situation to the Law Agent whose reply was that if their land was carried away and endangered the road they were not under any liability. The Commissioners conveniently used this reply to the Youghal Urban District Council when a year later they pointed out coast erosion north of the Commissioners' landing.
In February 1916 the Inspector, Captain Deane, reported that the signalman, Mr E. Youdall, was too feeble to attend regularly to his work of tending the tidal light and suggested, as a suitable man was not available to do the work, that the job should be handed over to the Principal Keeper and his family, his salary to be increased by £10 per annum, thus saving £22, and Youdall to be paid a gratuity. The Board of Trade agreed; Youdall received £28 and the Principal Keeper, his wife and two daughters were £10 per annum better off.
1923 saw the first mention of making Youghal unwatched, together with nine other stations, but the proposal was postponed. It was brought up again in July 1929 when the Inspector, Captain W.H. Davis, and Engineer, Mr C.W. Scott, recommended availing of the electricity supply newly introduced into Youghal. This was referred to the Inspecting Committee on Tour who reported favourably in September provided the cost was not too great. The Engineer and Inspector were ordered to submit estimates. Nine years elapsed before the Inspecting Committee recommended converting the light to electric, with a pensioned Lightkeeper to supervise. Mr Tonkin, Engineer-in-Chief, followed up with a very detailed report mentioning that the main light was only 1750 candle power and not particularly good with brighter town lights all around. The two red auxiliary lights were only 100 candle power each, one showing over the western channel from a window in the tower and other over the eastern channel from a small building outside the tower. Each had a one wick burner in a silvered parabolic reflector. They were lit at night from two hours before high water to one and a half hours after. A ball replaced the lights during daytime. Mr Tonkin proposed an occulting electric light―two seconds light, two seconds dark―and red sectors over the channels in place of the tidal lights. He was not able to give the power of the new light as a suitable lamp had yet to be designed. The alternative would be dissolved acetylene which would cost £625 plus £104 maintenance against electric at £500. A further report two weeks later stated that he had failed to find a suitable electric lamp so it was decided to settle for acetylene with a power of 3,500 candles and a character of one second flash five seconds dark. Two Moyes Acetylene Generators for £92-2-0d. were recommended by Mr Tonkin in May 1939 and the Board of Trade sanction was obtained the following month. A Notice to Mariners was submitted and issued pointing out that the tidal lights would be discontinued and replaced by red sectors. The character of the light would be half second flash, two and a half seconds dark. The Engineer reported, after Christmas 1939, that the light had been changed to unwatched on 21 December and, due to war time conditions, was only 1700 candle power, but would be increased to 3500 after the war!
The Moyes Acetylene Generators did trojan work for over twenty years, but in 1961 the Inspecting Committee recommended the Engineer, Mr A.D.H. Martin, to report on conversion to electric. This was postponed for one year and an estimate for £1000 was presented in 1962. A cluster of three Philips "Argenta" 100 watt lamps were to replace the acetylene burner, using ESB mains. A Lister LD2, 3kW, 220V single phase, AC, mains failure generating set would be installed and, stand-by emergency equipment consisting of an AK25 cylinder of dissolved acetylene supplying a group five 20 litre burner through a regulator and flasher. All this was approved in October 1962 and sanctioned by the Ministry of Transport in May 1963.
The new electric light was put into operation on 26 May 1964 with an increased power in the white light from 2500 to 4000 candelas and the red increased from 500 to 800 candelas.
On 17 May 1978 the white and red sectors were altered to cover the dangers and mark the deepest water more effectively.
In 1992 plans were drawn up to improve the range of the light. This entailed replacing the Argenta lamps with two 100V 1000W (LII type) filament lamps (one in use, one standby in case of failure of the lamp in use) mounted on a LC lampchanger and powered by a 100V DC supply. The lampchanger and power unit had previously been in use at Tuskar. The new optic system was put into operation on 27 May 1993. The range of the improved light was 17 nautical miles in the white sectors and 13 nautical miles in the red sectors. Local shipping interests wrote to the Commissioners expressing their appreciation.
Since 1996 the Attendant no longer lives at the lighthouse. The light is monitored remotely from the monitoring centre at Irish Lights Headquarters in Dún Laoghaire.